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National Journal: Congress More Partisan Than Ever

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The annual Congressional voting ratings from National Journal are out this month. They confirm what most people who follow Congress have witnessed lately -- stark division along partisan lines. By analyzing the voting records of each member of Congress, the report is able to show why decisions on compromises are nearly impossible in the current environment on Capitol Hill. With a closer look at how some of the members in our area fit into the overall mix is Reid Wilson from the National Journal Hotline.

Some excerpts:

How do you quantify the divide in Congress?

"We take a look at every single vote that Congress takes, both the House and Senate, and from those we cull out the ones that went largely along party lines. When people cross over, when a Democrat votes with the Republican majority or a Republican votes with a Democrat majority, that sets them apart a little bit from their own party. It sort of gives us a sense of how they vote against their own party, and it divides the caucus a little bit."

You've been doing this for 30 years -- how does the picture this year compare with years before?

"We're getting more partisan, and I don't think that's a surprise to anybody that's watched Congress over the year. If you take a look at the Senate rankings, for example, there's not a single Democratic Senator who was more conservative than the most liberal Republican, just as there is no Republican Senate that is more liberal than the most conservative Democrat. That is, there's no cross-over. There are fewer liberal Republicans and fewer conservative Democrats in Congress. That has become a growing trend in the last few years. In the House, there are a few that cross over here and there, but there are not many, and those who do are probably not going to be around for long."

What do you think accounts for this shift to clear division?

"I think it's largely a function of the fact that we're now in a national political landscape. Decades ago, before Twitter and social media and cable news networks and blogs, a Republican from Maine like Sen. Olympia Snowe was able to run as a moderate, while a Republican from Oklahoma or South Carolina could be much more conservative. These days, there's sort of a national pressure to become much more homogenous."

How do you expect the picture to shift after the election?

"It's not only Olympia Snowe, it's also Sen. Ben Nelson, one of the most conservative Democrats, who will not be seeking another term. Sen. Scott Brown, one of the most liberal Republicans faces a very tough fight for re-election, so we could see even further division in the Senate. In the House, it's the same story. Five of the six most conservative Democrats are either facing a very tough challenge for reelection, say they won't run again, or are running for a different office. So even the most right-leaning part of the Democratic caucus isn't going to be there, further eliminating what little of the middle remains in the House."

What local Maryland lawmakers fit into the rankings?

"Congresswoman Donna Edwards is tied for the most liberal Democrat in Congress with 18 others. Reps. John Sarbanes and Elijah Cummings are to the left of the Democratic caucus while Reps. Chris Van Hollen and Steny Hoyer remain closer to the middle as a whole. On the Republican side, Roscoe Bartlett is pretty close to the center of the House, actually, while Rep. Andy Harris is more towards the middle of the Republicans as a whole."

What about Virginia?

"In Virginia, the story is a little different. The three Republican freshmen are much more conservative than the Democrats they replaced. Robert Hurt has the most conservative voting record in the state. We rank him as the 34th most conservative Republican overall. On the Democratic side, Jerry Connelly is on the right, right side of the Democratic caucus, whereas Bobby Scott and Jim Moran have much more liberal voting records."

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